Study Hall

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When The Show Hits The Fan

Have a strategy or have a crisis, your choice. By the way, the right solution was learned by doing it wrong a few times...

In the midst of a fairly frantic load-in for a show in San Antonio, we made a horrible discovery. The lighting rig, the sound system, the entire show was dead.

Because the trunk full of feeder cable was missing.

We were (literally) about a thousand miles from the shop. Not a good situation, especially when the clock was ticking and there was less than six hours to showtime.

For those who don’t know, feeder cable is that stuff that defies several laws of physics. It weighs more than any other known substance and jumps up to trip us when we’re sneaking around the stage. On the good side, it carries all of that fancy electricity from the panel to those doo-hickeys we make our living with.

Well, at least it does if it actually makes it to the venue.

I was just a hired gun, but because I was running this circus, and these were my monkeys, I had to make some decisions. It was not my rig, but it was my problem. After several years with this crew, I already knew what I wanted to communicate. But really, this discussion applies to any crew, and it applies whether you’re in charge or not. The key is for everyone to stay calm and work through the steps that lead to survival.

First. Bring the crew in and explain the situation. All work ceases until we’ve opened every case and are absolutely positive the feeder is missing.

Second. Send the crew back to work. Keep them on schedule as much as possible and work around the missing gear.

Third. Find the venue manager or someone who knows the area to get help in finding a local rental house. Then start making calls to track down a replacement. Stay calm on the phone – panic seems to cause the rates to go up. They can smell your fear, so best to keep it under control.

Fourth. Arrange for the missing gear to arrive ASAP. Pay them, tip them, send them Christmas cards and a chunk of grandma’s best chocolate cake. Anything to express your extreme gratitude.

Fifth. Now… call the boss. Not before the other steps are covered.

In this case, the boss was a thousand miles away. It was around 5 am. There was absolutely nothing he could have done for us under those conditions. All he could do was panic and spew colorful expletives. Honestly, what would you do if woken from a dead sleep to find out how much money you were about to lose?

When I told him that the feeder was missing, he lost it.

Yep. Saw that coming.

Once he stopped to breathe, I finally got the opportunity to tell him the rest of the story, that the situation was already resolved. He eventually calmed down. And, after driving down to the shop, he called back and told me it was sitting right where the shop guys left it – on the loading dock. I went back to work, knowing that those guys were about to have a really bad day.

It would be great to say that I knew how to handle these problems from the beginning of my career, but I didn’t. The right solution was learned by doing it wrong a few times.

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Every step in that process is critical. Don’t freak out. Verify before reacting. Take control and find an answer. Keep moving forward. Avoid dropping bombs on people who are essentially helpless.

Your situation may be different. There may be a better strategy for fixing stupid where you live. Regardless of how you do it, just have one.

By the way, that show went perfectly, but San Antonio was notorious for crazy problems. In fact, the next year the entire truck went missing.

But that’s another story.

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